Mike Ratcliffe

Richard Lawes Foundation

I’m a 27 year old control systems engineer living in Lancashire with an interest in applying the latest engineering developments to increase global food production. From an early age I’ve been involved with a modestly sized family farm at a hands on level. It was during this time that I’ve realised how much of an impact automation could have in the lives of small farmers by reducing labour demands and increasing resource utilization efficiency.  

I work as commercial manager and systems engineer at the Aquaponics Lab.  I find my role very rewarding as it allows following my passion for farming and engineering by developing technologies for the production of healthy, sustainable and locally sourced food. I am also considerably involved with teaching, previously teaching at Lancaster University, local prisons and mentoring in Beijing China.

My interests include Open Source Projects, Farming and Camping.

I would like to record my thanks to everyone at the Aquaponics Lab for their support, my past sponsors [Farnell, Lancaster University, Sir John Fisher foundation] and mentors. I am also very grateful to the Nuffield Farming Trust staff and my sponsor the Richard Laws Foundation for supporting my work and personal development over the coming year

There is a great need for increasing local food production around the globe.

I will be using the Nuffield Scholarship to further my aims of increasing overall access to sustainable, low-cost automation systems and knowledge for food production, especially by small farmers who currently have little access to technology. I believe that by employing well-proven automation technologies - in use by other industries - a small farmer would be able to double his/her crop yields while using 50% less resources [mainly water and nutrients] and reduce the labour demands by a similar ratio.

Small farmers account for a large portion of worldwide food production and one of the current problems in small agriculture is the fact that the next generation of young farmers is moving into the cities creating skill shortages. I have personally seen this in China, ageing farmers with no one to pass their farming knowledge to. These young people view farming as a low income and hard manual labour job. It is my hope that increases in the overall production capabilities and profitability alongside reduced labour demands will entice the young to view farming as a great career and help to solve this issue.

To get a better understanding of the need of farmers I plan on visiting a range of countries with diverse agricultural development. The countries of choice will depend on further research into demographics, however is highly likely the below countries will be included:

>USA/Australia

>Brazil

>Morocco